Egypt Independent

Terrorism suspected in fire at downtown synagogue

A small fire erupted today in front of the synagogue on Adly Street in downtown Cairo, causing no damage or injuries, a Cairo Security Directorate official told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

The official, who works at the press office of the Cairo Security Directorate, said the fire erupted between 6:30 and 7:00 AM on the pavement opposite the Jewish house of worship.

The security official would not confirm or deny that the fire was the result of a terrorist attack, but other sources suggested that it might have been.

"There was a black bag that caught on fire. This is why a terrorist intention was suspected. Until now there is no evidence to confirm this suspicion,” said the source from the Cairo Security Directorate.

Mahmoud Salem, an eyewitness, said, “I was driving by Adly Street at 8:20 AM on my way to work. There were a lot of policemen. On the pavement facing the synagogue, there was stuff on the floor. I saw two plastic bags, one of them was black and opened. There was also some broken glass around them. I saw a policeman wearing gloves picking up a bottle filled with liquid from the bag.”

Salem, known as Sandmonkey on online social networks, immediately reported what he saw on Twitter.

When Al-Masry Al-Youm arrived on the scene around 9:20 AM, policemen, State Security officers, and forensic investigators were spread throughout the area around the synagogue. Police confirmed that the fire did not affect the building’s interior and was immediately contained.

According to the Cairo Security Directorate source, the black bag found on the pavement contained clothes and glass bottles. Police later said that it also contained a homemade bomb consisting of fuel cans and sulfuric acid, which burned briefly but did not detonate.

A doorman in a building near the synagogue told Al-Masry Al-Youm that he overheard police officers talking about the incident.

“They were saying a young man checked in to the hotel [Panorama] early today. He then headed to the window of the hotel, threw a bag from it, and ran down the stairs,” the doorman said, speaking on condition of anonymity. A similar account was given by a statement from the Ministry of Interior.

Plain-clothed policemen were deployed inside the building where Hotel Panorama is located and access to the hotel was blocked.

The Abdeen Investigation team told Al-Masry Al-Youm that employees in the hotel said the suspect was tall and had a hand bag and a plastic bag. After he asked for a room and waited for the receptionist to come, he threw the bag from the window of the hotel in the direction of the synagogue, which is 14 meters away.

Carmen Weinstein, the president of the Egyptian Jewish Community Council, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that she called the police and they told her not to worry.

The synagogue, called Sha’ar Hashamayim, which translates to the Gate of Heaven, marked its 100th birthday in 2008. The synagogue occasionally hosts services on major Jewish holidays and attendance is sparse.

Mohamed El Dahshan contributed reporting.